PRINT March 2009

Cao Fei

 Cao Fei, Hip Hop, 2003, still from a color video, 3 minutes.

IN THE LATE 1980s, before music videos could be seen on Chinese television, I would often watch VHS tapes of old music videos that my older sister and her classmates passed around. By the early ’90s, pop culture from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the West was gradually infiltrating southern China, and since I grew up in the first mainland city to open up to the world—the incredibly inclusive southern provincial capital of Guangzhou—I spent my entire adolescence captive to music-video culture, as well as to Hollywood movies, Western television programs, and so on. These media were an explosive cultural stimulus for my generation in China. I fell in love with MTV for a time, imitating the dances and fashions I saw in the videos. I would listen to pop music on my Walkman on the way to and from school, and the fruits of my diligent study were obvious every time I hit the dance floor. I even danced in some local television advertisements. Quite naturally, this period came to influence the narrative techniques and emotional tenor of my later artistic practice, specifically in the way I incorporate commercial advertising’s rapid editing, music videos’ handling of sound and image, and, of course, montage. My work also shares with music-video culture a fascination with movement, color, and light, an emphasis on the psychological impact of the visual, and the stratagem of using as a main narrative element rhythmic and lyrical elements that emerge from beyond the images—all of which enables me to capture something of the bewildering hybridity of postmodern Chinese society. Mine is the culture of an almost theatrically materialistic era, drunk on and dazed by its possessions, divorced from the political ideology of the previous generation. Amid the revelry of ubiquitous appropriation and adaptation, and against a backdrop of headily interacting and ever-changing media, I take these pop-cultural forms as a bridge and not simply a reference.

Cao Fei is an artist based in Guangzhou, China.

Translated from Chinese by Philip Tinari.

Artforum invited Cao Fei to select several videos to accompany the reproduction of her article online. Below are some of her choices.



Sinéad O’Connor’s 1990 music video Nothing Compares 2 U.


Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) from 1979 directed by Alan Parker.



Cao Fei, Whose Utopia, 2006–2007 (excerpt).


China Tracy (aka Cao Fei), i.Mirror, 2007 (Part One).


China Tracy (aka Cao Fei), i.Mirror, 2007 (Part Two).


China Tracy (aka Cao Fei), i.Mirror, 2007 (Part Three).


A virtual tour of Cao Fei's Second Life project RMB City.